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As Oklahoma's controversial immigration bill advances, Stitt won't commit to signing it into law

Gov. Kevin Stitt delivers his State of the State address on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Legislative Service Bureau
Gov. Kevin Stitt delivers his State of the State address on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says he has not decided if he will sign a controversial piece of immigration legislation if it reaches his desk next week. First, he says, he’s seeking advice from a trusted foreign diplomat from Mexico.

Stitt says he agrees with lawmakers and the Attorney General on the need to secure the state’s borders and address the drug and human trafficking crimes that accompany illegal immigration into the heartland.

“What they're trying to do is like Texas, and like a lot of these other states, is stop the flow of mass migration coming into the U.S.” Stitt said. “President Biden is not using the tools in his belt to secure the southern border. So, yes, states are stepping up to say, ‘we're going to make it very difficult to come here illegally, not follow our rules.’”

Stitt is one of more than a dozen governors to send a small number of their National Guard to assist Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s controversial Operation Lone Star, a sweeping border security mission involving various levels of Texas law enforcement.

He’s unsure if House Bill 4156, a measure criminalizing anyone without a legal immigration status in Oklahoma, is the best approach.

Stitt acknowledged the need to protect the large — and growing — Latino population in the state that fills vital workforce needs. He said he also supports legislation establishing special work visas at the state level.

HB4156 passed off the House floor last week, and must pass the Senate before reaching the governor's desk.

“I'm not going to make a decision right now whether I'll sign it or not,” Stitt said. “There's too many variables on what's in the bill. Our team, we'll look at it, and we'll review that.”

If he does sign it, Oklahoma will join a collection of states in the middle of the country by following Texas’s lead and passing state-level border security policies.

Stitt plans meeting with Mexican diplomat

The governor said it’s not his intent to see families in Oklahoma separated, which some long-established members of the Latino community fear could happen as a result of the broad language in the measure.

“It’s not our intent to separate families at all,” Stitt said. He said he plans to consult with the Mexican consular general in Oklahoma City, Edurne Pineda, to learn how Oklahoma can tackle illegal immigration while also protecting contributing members of the Latino community – most of whom are Mexican.

“Hopefully, I can learn from her and then help the legislature design the bill that they’re trying to do,” he said.

Pineda said Friday that Stitt contacted her for a conversation about the proposal, and she does worry about the harm the bill could bring Mexicans in Oklahoma. They plan to meet on Monday.

As a Mexican diplomat, Edurne stressed in an interview with KOSU that she has no power in Oklahoma’s legislative or political process. Nor does she want it, she said. Her goal is to tell Stitt immigrants are valuable to the state and most do much greater good than harm.

“Immigrant communities — especially Mexicans, who are the ones I can speak for with pride — love the United States,” Edurne said. “So, it’s not fair. They are being used as pawns for political games, and it’s not fair.”

In playing those games, she said, lawmakers negatively affect the lives of hardworking families that do their best to stay out of trouble.

“Crimes rates for undocumented immigrants in the United States are among the lowest of any demographic,” she said. “They are much lower than that of citizens or permanent residents.”

She said most people in the country without legal immigration statuses are good.

She acknowledged high rates of Latinos in the state arrested for driving under the influence and domestic violence but maintained her position.

“They aren’t criminals,” Edurne said. “What they do is sometimes drink too much and drive unsafely. And we have high rates of domestic violence too. That’s not okay. They shouldn’t do that, but they aren’t criminals. That’s what I’ll say to the governor when I see him. I can’t let this opportunity go to waste.”

She had a message for the Latino community in Oklahoma, too: don’t be scared — yet.

“Services at the Mexican Consulate will continue regardless of what happens with the proposed law,” Edurne said, explaining that applies to regular services offered to Mexican nationals and the handful offered to Latinos broadly.

“The proposed policy is not yet law,” she said. “So don’t be afraid. Go on with your lives.”

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Lionel Ramos covers state government for a consortium of Oklahoma’s public radio stations. He is a graduate of Texas State University in San Marcos with a degree in English. He has covered race and equity, unemployment, housing, and veterans' issues.
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